Grit Blogs > News From The Nest In Rural Pennsylvania

A Healthy Diet: What Can I Eat?

A photo of Lori Dunn with pet squirrelsEat a low fat diet. Reduce your cholesterol. Cut down on your carbs. Watch your sugar. Just what are we supposed to eat? It can all be very confusing. I’m no dietician, but I have become very conscious of what my family and I consume. I have made a new commitment to try and eat as healthy as possible, but what, exactly, is ok? I have spent some time using my favorite resource (the internet) to try and get some answers.

One of the things I found has to do with sugar, and it was actually my husband that stumbled upon it. He accidentally came across a video called “Sugar, The Bitter Truth.” It is by Robert H. Lustig, MD, a UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology (it’s also available on YouTube). It is a bit long, but it was very informative, and I was angry after I watched it! Basically, the doctor explains why sugar, and especially high fructose corn syrup is so bad for us.

I immediately went to my pantry and started reading labels. It is no wonder there is so much type 2 diabetes in this country. Almost everything we consume has had sugar added to it! So how do we get rid of the sugar? It isn’t easy. I don’t think the answer is to just cut sweets from your diet altogether. It would never work, because everyone likes to have a cookie, or cake, or whatever your favorite dessert is. No one can stay away from these goodies forever, so there has to be an alternative, right? I went looking for some.

My first thought for alternative sweeteners of course was the well known brands, Sweet-n-low (saccharin), Equal (aspartame), and Splenda (sucralose).

Sugar, Splenda and Aspartame

Once again, I did some research. I came to the conclusion that none of these are acceptable substitutes, as far as I’m concerned! These sweeteners are chemically produced, not natural, and there are questions about them causing cancer. I am not willing to take that chance! Splenda claims to be natural because it is made from sugar, but what they do to it in the processing is NOT natural. Here is just one link for a video on youtube that explains the origins of Splenda. There is actually quite a lot of info if you look for it. The problem is that we think because these items are approved by the FDA that they are safe. In a perfect system, that might be true, but when big money is involved, our best interests are not the number one priority!

So back to the question, what is a safe alternative? I have found one alternative sweetener that I believe is safe, and it is what I will be using as my main sweetener from now on, Stevia. Stevia is an herb that grows naturally, and is many times sweeter than sugar. It has 0 calories, and has many health benefits to boot! So why isn’t Stevia used in more of our products? I believe it is because big sugar businesses with big money have a lot to lose if this little herb gains popularity! Stevia can only be sold in the United States as a dietary supplement, and in skin care products. That needs to change! Japan has been using Stevia commercially since the 1970s, and it is 50 percent of their sweetener industry today! Here are just a couple of links I found with information about Stevia: Questions & Answers about Stevia and Health Benefits of Stevia. You can also find recipes using Stevia online, and it can be purchased at most health food stores. It can be purchased as a powder, liquid, and in small sweetener packets. I found some Stevia marketed under the name “Truvia” at Giant.

Truvia brand of stevia sweetner

I will also use honey, 100 percent maple syrup and molasses as sweetening alternatives. Although these items do have sugar, they are natural, and have other health benefits as well.

All this just to deal with the sugar aspect of our diet! I haven’t even touched on fat and cholesterol, and things like hydrogenated products! Don’t even get me started on shortening and margarine! They are almost plastic, and I am of the opinion that real butter is a better choice than either of those. I think olive oil is the best oil you can use for cooking.

In the end, I have come to a couple conclusions. The first is that I will never trust the FDA and others such as they that are supposed to have my best interests in mind when approving, or not approving products as safe!

Fresh apples

The other is simply this; the foods that are the best for us are fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and naturally raised meat and wild game.

Garden bounty from Lori

Those items which have not been processed to death, with unnatural additives and preservatives, are the things we should be eating. That is not always easy in this day and age, when many times it takes two incomes to support a family and pay the bills. Good food takes time to prepare, and can be more expensive. Most times it is much simpler to reach into the freezer and pull out the pre-packaged item that takes 10 minutes, and bingo, instant dinner, or to grab that snack cake or snack bar that is cheap and easy.

I think it can be done though, with a little planning ahead. Choose what you want to make for supper the night before, and gather those items together ahead of time so they are easier to put together the next day. Set a time to make some healthy, homemade snacks for the week. Make snack mixes with nut varieties and dried fruit. Most dried fruits have sugar on them, but you can find some with no added sugar, and if you can’t find them, dry your own. I played around with a mixture of all natural peanut butter, honey, oatmeal, unsweetened dried banana chips, unsweetened coconut chips, and English walnuts. I just started dumping, and mixed these items to a consistency that I could form little snack sized balls out of it. They got pretty good, and I’m already coming up with ways to change it around next time.

Homemade pleanut butter snacks

Where to shop for your food is another question! I believe it is best if you can raise it or grow it yourself! If you can’t do that, buy from local farmers markets or places that you trust as to what is fed to or sprayed on the food you consume!

Whole grains, wheat flour, cornemeal, and oatmeal

Use as many whole grain products as you can, and when purchasing fresh fruits or veggies from the grocery store, wash them thoroughly to remove chemicals that might be on them before eating!

Wash fruits and veggies before using

READ THOSE LABELS! Know what is in the food you are buying and feeding to your family! Do a little research. There is lots of info out there from many sources that, thanks to the Internet, are easier to get a hold of! If by doing all these things, I can add years to the life of my family, then I consider it time well spent and worth it!

lori
2/1/2010 4:46:37 PM

Vickie, We were never huge soda drinkers, but we drank our fair share. I cut soda out some time ago. I drink water, tea, and coffee. I must confess that I'm not a milk drinker, but I get my share of milk products through cheese. I LOVE CHEESE! I probably drink to much coffee. I have read that some coffee is good for you, but I drink a lot more than "some"! Maybe some day I will cut back on that as well, but for now I'm going to concentrate on the sugar. One thing at a time!


vickie
2/1/2010 3:32:12 PM

Lori, Glad I came back to read -I use a lot of Splenda in my iced tea -I'm going to look for this Stevia -maybe I'll find it at a health food store near by. I just recently cut my diet coke consumption (about three weeks ago) down to 2 glasses a day -I'm ashamed to admit how much Diet Coke I was drinking and I've substitued somewhat with tea. Such a good post. vickie


lori
2/1/2010 3:31:05 PM

Andrew, I was able to find stevia at Giant for about $6.00 for 80 packets. I also saw it at Walmart in the vitamin and herbal supplement section, for about $7.00. I don't know the variety of stores you have available to shop at, but you may be able to find it cheaper if you shop around. I'm impressed with your calculations, and I think we may be coming out pretty even too because I'm using so much less sugar! There is a company that makes a stevia product that measures cup for cup like sugar, but I've only found it online, and it was pretty expensive. I'm trying to find some place local that sells it. I would like to have it for baking purposes. If I can find any more info on that, I'll post it here!


anotherkindofdrew
2/1/2010 3:02:00 PM

@Lori - You are so right. We WILL pay for it one way or the other. I did some figuring last night and we cut back our sugar intake (save for baking which I now need to think about) to about half its current amount we would be able to buy Stevia for almost the same amount as Splenda. In other words: (and these are round number for example purposes) 1 box of Splenda (100 packets) = $5.00 1 box of Stevia (100 packets) = $10.00 Cut amount used in half which would make 100 packets of Splenda = 50 packets of Stevia.


lori
2/1/2010 11:40:05 AM

Ashten, I didn't know that the ingredients were listed most to least! You learn something new everyday! Cindy, Your brussel sprouts sound YUMMY! I love them anyway, and you know how I feel about stir fry! The only way to cook veggies! ;)


ashten
2/1/2010 11:10:48 AM

Yes, I'm quite satisfied with this peanut butter...I prefer it over the more sugary stuff now that I've acquired a taste for it! Cindy, I love smart balance products...they're very good! I use them in my baking often too...although I also use real butter...I prefer margarin on my jelly bread though...so smart balance is a good alternative...the only thing I don't like is how hard it gets in the fridge! ugh...o well, I just let it sit out on the counter for a little before using it so it softens a bit. That brussel sprout recipe sounds SO SCRUMPTIOUS! I will definitely try that out!! I don't know if everyone is familiar with this fact or not, but the ingredients in foods are listed from the most to least on the ingredients list...it's crazy how many times sugar or high fructose turns up in the top three of those lists... happy eating everyone! :) and once again..AWESOME blog mama!


cindy murphy
2/1/2010 9:10:50 AM

Oh! Thanks for that tip about Smart Balance Natural Peanut Butter, Ashton; I didn't know it existed! Just a couple of months ago we ran out of peanut butter, and at the store checked the label on the brand I always buy. I was amazed at how much sugar it contained. I bought a natural peanut butter brand instead. It still sits in the cupboard, barely touched - the kids won't eat it, and I can't say I'm very fond of it either. I commented earlier I use Smart Balance as a margerine/butter substitute for cooking, and love it. I'll have to check out their peanut butter too. Here's a tip to try to get your Hubs to like those brussel sprouts. I've loved brussel sprouts since I was a kid, but my family wouldn't touch them. Hubs liked them okay, but complained about the uhm....gaseous after-effects when he ate them. After reading that boiling or steaming is what causes the gas-producing effect, I tried sauteeing. Just trim them, and cut length-wise (or if they're large, quarter them). Throw a little olive oil in a skillet, add a dash or two of balsamic vinegar, and sautee until tender. Sometimes I throw in a handful of dried cranberries and almond slivers too. Yum! Hubs loves them now without the ill side-effects. The kids liking them? I'm still working on it.


lori
2/1/2010 6:07:40 AM

Hi Ashy-Pie! I have used the dextrose sugar (100 Percent glucose sugar) in a couple of things I've made so far and it has worked just fine. It isn't as sweet as regular sugar, and the texture is a bit finer than regular sugar. For anyone else that is wondering, glucose is the better kind of sugar that our bodies can process. I'll just have to refer everyone to the video I mentioned in the blog. The good doctor can explain better than I! I found the 100 percent dextrose sugar at a health food store. Dextrose is another name for glucose. Pizza is one of my favorite foods, and biggest weaknesses, but even that can be made healthy! Home made with a whole wheat crust and home canned pizza sauce. I've tasted your home made pizza's and they are DELICIOUS! I'm going to try the peanut butter you mentioned. I'm interested in the taste difference by sweetening with molasses! I'm all about trying new things and having an open mind!


ashten
1/31/2010 10:01:34 PM

Also, if anyone is looking for a DELICIOUS substitute for sugary peanut butter...I am not a fan of many of the natural peanut butters especially because of how the oil separates in them....I use Smart Balance Natural Peanut Butter...it has no hydrogenated oil in it, is a good source of Omega 3's, uses flax oil, and substitutes molasses for high fructose...still sugar...but a better alternative. Nebraska Dave...you might like this alternative...it still tastes different...but it's much better than most natural peanut butter's I've tasted...and like any other foods...once you start using something frequently...your tastes adjust and you most often learn to like it...it's just a matter of disciplining yourself to "eat with an open mind." My husband Deron has been a wonderfully cooperative student in the art of learning to like new foods as I have taught him to enjoy peas, red beets, and parsnips among other healthy foods since we married 2 1/2 years ago! Still working on brussel sprouts though :P...don't know if he'll ever cave in to eating those...:D


ashten
1/31/2010 9:45:38 PM

Great blog mom! Some things I'd like to add to your genious :)...you mentioned how some of these healthier foods can cost more money...but like I always tell my husband: if spending two extra dollars saves us hundreds or even thousands of dollars in medical bills down the road...then it was worth every penny! Also, another tip I learned from the brilliant author/speaker Emilie Barnes...when washing your produce...add two to three tablespoons of white vinegar to your water...it strips the pesticides! I've tried it and it works pretty well! You're such an inspiration mom...it's been fun finding alternatives and working the yucky stuff out of our diets...even though we did just buy pizza from the local pizza joint the other day...sheesh! Baby steps...we're taking baby steps!! p.s. you didn't mention the dextrose mom...have you tried that yet in any of your baking? I thought that looked like an alternative I was interested in.


lori
1/30/2010 10:38:37 PM

Nebraska Dave, I used quick cooking rolled oats right out of the box to make my snack balls. Most peanut butter does contain sugar, but the all natural stuff does not. That's what I used. Natural peanut butter is a bit different though. The oil separates to the top, and you have to stir it up good before using it. I used honey in my snacks to sweeten them, and to smooth out the peanut butter , which is a bit stickier than regular peanut butter. You will just have to keep taste testing till it is right for you. A tough job, I know! I agree a hundred percent that frozen veggies are way better than canned. I haven't used canned for years with a couple exceptions. One of those was kidney beans. I went to buy some just the other day to make some chili, and was really surprised to find sugar added to them. Why beans? I found some black beans that contained only water and salt, so that's what I got, but I'm going to start using the dried beans instead.


lori
1/30/2010 10:22:23 PM

Andrew, I am a huge coffee drinker too! I don't use sugar in my coffee, but I do use LOTS of creamer! My husband says I use more creamer than coffee, but when I started reading labels looking for sugar I found my coffee creamer also had it listed in the ingredients! WHAT!? NOOOO! It is a HUGE sacrifice for me to give up powdered creamer, but that is exactly what i've done! Now I buy light cream, or just use milk in my coffee. You are correct that stevia costs more than the other sweeteners. Just another thing added to the list of why eating healthy is more expensive! I've decided to bite the bullet and pay the price. I'm going to plant stevia in my garden this year and see what I can do with it at home. I guess you could say that we will pay the price one way or another. If it isn't for healthy food now, it will be for doctor's bills later! I'm sure we're like a lot of other people in that we don't have extra money to throw out for somethings, so I just try to adjust for it in other things that we buy that we really don't need!


nebraska dave
1/30/2010 8:58:13 PM

Lori, I’m kind of fascinated with the home made rolled snack balls. I’m not the Rachel Ray of cooking so those look easy and no cook. My question is what kind of oatmeal did you use rolled or steel cut? Was it cooked or just right out of the box? I’m a big peanut butter …. well any kind of nut person. Yeah, I know you could say that I’m just kind of nutty. The unsalted roasted peanuts in the shell are the best. Not a day goes by that I don’t have a few. Those little snack wads look like they would really be something for me. Sugar is an addiction. According to MedicineNet.com the average American consumes 156 pounds of sugar each year. Only 20 pounds come from the sugar bowl. The rest comes in the form of food and drink. Twenty six percent coming from things like ketchup, canned vegetables, canned fruit, and (Oh, my gosh, no no) peanut butter? Yeah, well I’m guessing that’s not the natural peanut butter. If it is than no one tell me. OK? When we were concerned about fat, cholesterol, and calories, we should have considered sugar and salt as well. I have discovered that most frozen vegetables are not ladened with sugar or salt or high fructose and have switched over to only frozen veggies. I’ve heard that frozen are even better than the regular store fresh vegetables because they are picked and frozen in the same day. The fresh in the store travel sometimes up to 1500 miles just to hit the store shelf. I’ll try to forget all this and go have some nuts.


anotherkindofdrew
1/30/2010 8:23:36 PM

Lori, you certainly don't lack on the research and depth of post. Thank you for sharing your observations. Let's just get this out of the way. I drink coffee. I love coffee. In fact, I drink 3-4 cups a day. This could partly be a work habit since I am a photojournalist and there is something so natural about working a deadline and drinking a lukewarm cup of joe. Whatever the case, I use 2 packets of Splenda a day and I have to admit also that I do it subconsciously. I started using Splenda a few years ago thinking it was a great substitute. Alas, it is not as you pointed out. We have recently tried to use some Stevia but it is not the most cost-effective in our local grocery. I have seen it advertised online for good bulk pricing so I think now is the time to make some changes. I do agree with you though that eating naturally and being able to track your food to its origin is the most healthy way to eat and live. I look forward to more of your posts.


lori
1/30/2010 12:35:30 PM

Vickie, It is surprising to me when I see sugar added to things like kidney beans, regular powdered coffee creamer, most canned veggies... WHY? I don't think there is any need to put it in there. I've checked labels before, but I was looking at other things, not for sugar content. It is a real eye opener!


vickie
1/29/2010 4:16:00 PM

Lori, Me and my oldest daughter were just talking about how much we think we are addicted to sugar then I come home and read your blog. Maybe we are in part because of the amount of sugar that is in everything (and salt). I'm going through my pantry and finding out just how much sugar is in there. I'm probably going to greatly suprised like you were. vickie


lori
1/29/2010 12:45:54 PM

Hi Susan! You can grow stevia in your garden! At least I did a few years back, here in PA. At that time I knew it was some kind of an herb, but not much more. I'm actually planning to dedicate some space in the garden for it this year! Isn't it fun to go through all the seed catalogues and plan for the coming year? Kinda gets rid of some of those cold weather blues, at least for me anyhow! There is a wonderful feeling you get from eating what you've grown, and knowing that it's so much healthier for you!


oz girl
1/29/2010 12:05:17 PM

Lori, what a wonderful and informative post. I've read much about Stevia over the last year... and now I'm wondering if I can grow some myself in my garden. I haven't researched it yet, so we'll see! It definitely takes more time and work to eat healthily. More thought process needs to go into our meal planning. Like you mention, sometimes it is just too easy to fix that 10 minute meal with a prepackaged solution! Since I'm not working right now, I'm trying to research and plan for our new garden this year. I'm hoping it will help us eat better and feel better about what we are eating. :) Susan City Gal Moves to Oz Land


lori
1/29/2010 8:59:41 AM

Cindy, We too have those times when pulling a prepackaged meal from the freezer is a quicker alternative to deep hunger pangs when time doesn't allow for more. I'm sure everyone does, but I am trying my best to avoid that. I use olive oil most of the time for my stir fries. I do, however, use lard sometimes too. I only use real butter, never margarine, and I never use shortening. I know some people who make casseroles ahead and freeze them. Then when they are pinched for time, they can simply pull one out of the freezer and pop it in the oven. I'm going to try that. My mom has to watch her cholesterol too, and I know it isn't easy! So far, 2010 has been better to us, thanks for your well wishes!


cindy murphy
1/29/2010 8:27:18 AM

Lori, thanks for sharing your ideas. I'm always trying to get healthier food on the table for myself and my family. I made the switch from margarine years ago - butter on the table and "Smart Balance" for cooking; it contains no hydrogenated oil, no trans fat, and is a good source of Omega 3. I use olive oil, or equally as good, safflower oil. I read labels. I've never used artificial sweetners - just the word "artificial" implies it doesn't belong in a human body. I plan our meals, even using extra time on the weekends to cook ahead for the upcoming week. Unfortunately, there are still those evenings when we're too busy to cook, and fall into the trap of reaching into the freezer and grabbing something processed. If it's not in there to grab, there's the phone handy to order take-out - typically not a healthy choice either. It's my goal this year to freeze meals ahead of time for those nights when cooking a decent meal is just not possible. High cholesterol is my big problem; I've had a so-high-I-should-be-dead cholesterol level since I had my first cholesterol check when I was pregnant with Shelby (about fifteen years now). That's another issue I'm determined to work on by eating a healthier diet, (I have a notorious sweet tooth). I'm so sorry to read about your daughter's miscarriage and mother-in-law's death. Wishing for you and your family better times ahead.


lori
1/28/2010 9:31:34 PM

Nebraska Dave, It feels good to be blogging again. My "kids" are doing well. They are totally in the wild now and on their own, but they still come to our feeders for feed. From about hunting season on was kinda hectic around here with lots going on. Of course there were Thanksgiving and Christmas, both big to-dos for our family. The end of 2009 was not a great time for our family. After trying for some time, my daughter and her husband finally gave us the news that we would be grandparents! We were all so excited, but not long after, she had a miscarriage.That was heartbreaking, but God is great, and gave us all the comfort we needed to get through it. Then in the end of December, my mother-in-law passed away. She was a beautiful lady and is greatly missed. We are looking forward to a happier 2010! Somewhat due to the health problems my mother-in-law had, I was spurred to make an effort to be as healthy as possible and eat right. That is one of the things that got me started doing this research about sugar. I hope to be more regular with blog entries now. I've already finished another one. Maybe you'll get sick of hearing from me! ;)


nebraska dave
1/28/2010 8:07:11 PM

Lori, it’s good to see you back on the Grit blog. I see that Huey, Dewey, and Lowie are still in the picture. How are the kids doing these days? I too have come to the conclusion that the closer to the plant we can live the better it is. I am really trying this year to eat much better than fast food and processed food in a plastic bag. Don’t get me started on how wasteful processed and fast food industries are. Then there is the salad that travels upward of 1500 miles to reach my plate and Winter melons that come from …. South America. Good Lord no wonder we have an oil crisis. The best part of growing up was the anticipation of the strawberry patch starting to produce or the first picking from the watermelon patch, or the first serving of new potatoes. Oh, my goodness that first bite of sweet corn fresh out of the field was delicious. All those seasonal foods were special at the right season. Then companies started putting everything in a can, giving it a mega dose of salt, and a shot of sugar to give everyone an addiction for more. After living on this stuff for 60 years, is it any wonder that I’m carrying around way too much excess tonnage. More and more people are looking for alternative eating habits which I believe will solve a lot of health issues. Thank you so much, Lori, for your research into the sweetness issue. It’s good information to know. I hope we can hear from you a little more often.